The Relationship Between Personality and Workspace Design

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At a roundtable discussion hosted by business psychologists OPP and workplace design firm KI, attended by Officing Today, it was revealed that most of today’s workplaces fail to accommodate the personality needs of individual employees. This is causing widespread discomfort and a severe drain on productivity.

Yet despite best efforts, solid evidence on the relationship between personality type and the workplace remains elusive. Here, Officing Today reports on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

The slightest and most subtle change in environment – be it a desk move, a new office, a standing desk – can have massive ramifications on an employee’s state of mind. It can contribute to a shift in their happiness and productivity at work.

In the end, it comes down to one single essential ingredient: the individual.

Discussion Overview


The vast majority of workplace design and furnishing makes little allowance for individual preferences with regard to work and communication styles. In a world of flexible working, a greater focus on employee welfare and a demanding, upwardly mobile workforce; the panel asks the question: how can our workplaces better reflect the needs of our workers?

Research – ‘Type and Work Environment’

The discussion was based on an extensive research report produced by KI and OPP, ‘Type and Work Environment’, which investigates the relationship between psychological type and the office environment.

In brief, the report (311 participants) found:

  • Most respondents would prefer a small shared or private office instead of a large open-plan environment
  • Those with the ability to personalize their work area are happier at work; features such as desk-sharing or hot-desking are disliked by most people, including Extroverts
  • Having ‘quiet areas’ available for concentrated tasks is desired by most respondents, particularly Introverts


  • Jonathan Hindle (KI, Group Managing Director EMEA)
  • John Hackston (OPP, Head of R&D)
  • Jonny Gifford (CIPD, Research Advisor)
  • Bob Seddon (BIFM, Chair, Workplace Special Interest Group)
  • Jackie Murphy (Flagship Consulting) – Panel Moderator

John Hackston revealed that OPP’s research shows that introverts prefer working from home or from small offices as opposed to large open plan spaces. However, most offices today (approximately 70%) are open plan, and hot-desking is becoming more common both in corporate environments and in flexible spaces.

Despite the apparent ‘popularity’ of hot-desking, very few respondents are happy with this style of workplace, particularly given the lack of desk personalization. Hackston highlighted that,”the reality is that one size doesn’t fit all.”

Quiet spaces – a universal solution?

A suggestion was put forward that personality differences can be ameliorated by creating small ‘quiet’ spaces to which workers can retreat. However, as Jonathan Hindle of KI says, it’s difficult to structure workspaces according to personality type because it’s seen as ‘space hungry’ and expensive.

“Historically, there is the perception that a variety of workplaces is inefficient and costly.” Bob Seddon of BIFM added that this is still a reality. “Every CEO wants to make sure he or she is not spending more than they have to on workspace.”

However, Hindle says we have the opportunity to maximize cost-efficiency and worker productivity through careful workspace planning and design. The objective is to create a variety of solutions to stimulate all workers – not just those who are happy in open spaces.

Segregation warning

However, when it comes to office design to suit multiple personalities, Jonny Gifford of CIPD suggests great care must be taken, “we don’t want to segregate personalities. We still want people to mix and collaborate.”

To this, Gifford added: “The $65million question is, how and where do we work well? The workplace should be more about the nature of work you’re doing, not necessarily the personality of the people using it.”

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For larger spaces, the panel discussed how intelligent office design – such as utilizing partitioning and high-walled units – can create the illusion of smaller, semi-private spaces. This suits introvert workers without taking the bustling, people-centric team environment away from extroverts.

Ultimately however, the panel agreed that solid data is required to demonstrate the true value of office design and whether or not it pays off in terms of productivity. Such data remains elusive, although reports such as the Leesman Index are edging closer.

“There is a lack of understanding about the nature of people’s work,” said Gifford. We need more research, to understand how much time employees spend in different roles, such as interacting time vs. thinking time.”

Wellness Agenda

Hindle raised the point that a new driver in the workplace is the “wellness agenda”, which is coming into play as corporates seek new ways to increase worker productivity.

Jackie raised the separate point of sit-stand workstations, which have been around for many years. The question is whether it’ll take as long for cultural changes in office design and personality to come into effect?

This of course remains to be seen, but there is certainly no shortage of discussion on the topic. OPP’s research is one of them, and Officing Today will continue to explore this topic further as part of a wider series on personality and workspace design.

The move towards a more individual-centric workplace is believed by many to be long overdue. What other opportunities and challenges are on the horizon for workspace operators? How do you accommodate different needs and personalities in your business centre? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook.

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